PR Measurement and Results


Historically, the PR industry has always struggled with how to measure appropriately public relations. With the onset of social media, channels have multiplied faster than the industry could keep up with and determining an ROI proved to be even more difficult than before. There has been a lack of standardization in PR measurement and no common ground on what matters the most. That all changed in 2010 at the Second European Summit on Measurement.

First a little bit of background. In 2009, the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) held the first European summit in Berlin. The following year, the summit was held in Barcelona. The goal for that year’s summit was to come to an understanding on how to measure PR that would be supported by the global industry. What came out of this groundbreaking gathering is now universally known as the Barcelona Principles:

  1. Importance of goals
  2. Outcomes over outputs (see my blog post on this for more insight)
  3. Measure results
  4. Quantity and quality
  5. Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVE) are not the value of PR
  6. Social media is measurable
  7. Transparency and replicability are paramount

What was revolutionary about these set of principles is not so much what they state, but the ubiquitous acceptance by the industry, most likely because of their straightforward nature and common language that most all could relate to. Every discipline can latch onto common ground by tying strategies to overall business goals, such market share, growing customer base, etc. If PR is responsible for building the organization-to-public relationship, then we should be confident enough to hang our hat on business growth.

The good news is with available data and analytical tools to help us interpret all of it, measurement is becoming easier to do. However, we still need to be on the same page about what metrics should be used for PR and what metrics don’t matter. Even with the universal acceptance of the Barcelona Principles, the use of Ad Value Equivalency (AVE) has been a difficult habit to give up.

AVEs are simply the cost of space
I reached out to an expert to gain perspective and insight on why the struggle to let go of AVEs. Shonali Burke is a national speaker and strategist on social PR and measurement. She teaches at The Johns Hopkins and Rutgers Universities, publishes the popular PR and digital media blog, Waxing UnLyrical, is founder and curator of the #measurePR hashtag and Twitter chat, and recently launched The Social PR Virtuoso, which provides online instruction for Social PR pros.

Shonali explains that there is still a need in marketing to correlate everything to revenue. Since there are defined metrics with advertising, it’s accepted as the easiest way to measure everything related to communications — even though it’s flawed.

“An AVE is the cost of space. That’s it. You cannot look at PR through the same lens as advertising,” says Shonali.

She continues to explain that advertising by itself doesn’t allow for as much direct conversation with the intended audience and ability to build that relationship.

“It’s important to measure outputs and outcomes, which is not that hard to do, if you put your mind to it… and really important to try and make those correlations. But if we’re not also measuring outtakes whenever we can, then we often miss a lot of what makes PR special, and which is simply not factored into an AVE.”

Three reasons to stop using AVEs
There are many who feel AVEs still have a place in PR measurement – and we may just agree to disagree – but let me provide three reasons why AVEs are no longer relevant measures of PR.

1. AVEs promote the misconception that PR is simply free advertising

Public relations is not a misnomer. We are building relationships with the key audiences that businesses depend on for success. That is far more valuable than a full-page advertisement.

2. The AVE model doesn’t fit in the digital space

AVE was designed based on using a comparable advertising rate for print, TV and radio. Advertising in the digital realm is far more complicated and isn’t simply a matter of print size or 30-second spots. Also there is no AVE for social media, which has proven to be vital in effectively communicating with key publics.

3. AVEs is not an output, outgrowth or outcome.

I discussed the three Os in a previous blog (link), which describes the three basic categories of PR results. AVEs cannot be categorized as any of those, so it can’t accurately be measured.

Back to what I stated earlier. For PR to be valued in today’s business, it’s important to tie your PR efforts to your organization’s overall marketing goals. Makes sense, right?

It’s not a simple formula but it’s not rocket science.